Indiana Tech, Huntington University and Parkview Health partner up for new program

This story was made possible by support from Indiana Tech.
For years, there has been talk of the nursing shortage from the healthcare field. Between burnout from the pandemic and a large number of existing nurses closing in on retirement, the healthcare industry is set to see a large disparity between the number of nurses they have and the number of nurses needed to provide care.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the need for nurses. Organizations like the WHO have been calling for an investment in nursing programs to fill gaps. As the pandemic wore on, more and more hospital beds were filled, and the healthcare system saw workers, burnt out from the uncertainty of the pandemic, leaving the profession. The total number of RNs decreased by more than 100,000 from 2020 to 2021– the largest drop in the past four decades according to Health Affairs. A significant number of nurses who left the workforce were under the age of 35, and most were employed in hospitals. 

Looking to the future of nursing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projects 2021-2031, the RN workforce is expected to grow by six percent in the next decade, increasing from 3.1 million to 3.3 million by 2031. That’s an increase of 195,400, which sounds like decent growth, but the same report says they project 203,000 openings for RNs each year through 2031. 

Workforce exits play a big role in the number of open positions, but the BLS says the number of nurses hitting retirement age is predicted to be a big contributor to the shortage. 

According to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and the National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers, the median age of RNs was 52 years old, rising from 51 years old in 2017. Additionally, nurses aged 65 years or older make up 19 percent of the RN workforce, a percentage that also has risen in the past decade. More than one-fifth of the nurse respondents in the survey said they plan to retire in the next five years.

“The proportion of nurses reporting a plan to retire from nursing over the next 5 years is on the rise, so the U.S. healthcare system needs to be prepared for large numbers of nurses leaving the profession in the near future,” the survey concludes.

Hallie Custer, Vice President of Human Resources at Parkview Health says the upcoming retirement of Baby Boomers within Parkview Health will leave openings for healthcare professionals.

And it’s not just the age of nurses that’s a cause for concern in the healthcare field.

Jayce Colclasure, Student Nurse Apprentice, right, practices an assessment with his mentor Colin Fassold, Registered Nurse at Parkview Regional Medical Center.The Silent Generation’s population never rivaled the numbers seen in three largest generations today– Millennials, Gen Z, and Baby Boomers. As Baby Boomers, now the third largest generation, age, the need for healthcare workers to care for them also increases. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that by 2034, there will be 77 million people aged 65 years or older, increasing the need for geriatric care.

Custer says Parkview is continuously growing to meet the needs of the community, but they’re seeing increasing patient volumes due to the aging population in our community who need more care.

“We definitely have a need for nurses, for healthcare workers,” says Cluster. “With all those things, we’re always going to have a need for nursing and healthcare workers within Parkview.”

Large foundations and philanthropic organizations have been attempting to step in and help the healthcare industry by funding specialized training, mental health care, paid time off, and other benefits that might help keep nurses in positions they already hold. And many organizations are working to create programs that might encourage potential nurses to pick the career path, including programs that fund scholarships, provide loan forgiveness, or help nursing students secure a job post-graduation.

Here in Northeast Indiana, Indiana Tech, Huntington University and Parkview Health are working together to make a career in nursing more accessible to a largely untapped market– adults returning to education. 

This year, they’re launching an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program (ABSN), which will give people, who already hold a bachelor’s degree, the opportunity to earn a nursing degree in just over a year. 

Huntington University launched its nursing program in 2007, and in the past decade, they’ve maintained a 100 percent job placement rate for graduated nurses. Jodi Eckert, Director of Nursing at Huntington says Huntington University has been mindful of the nursing shortage for a while and had been looking at what solution they could provide, but they were ultimately limited on what they could achieve tackling the problem alone. 

Eckert describes this partnership as a “beautiful marriage” between the two institutions.

Indiana Tech’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications Brian Engelhart says this program is about a year and a half in the making and utilizes the strengths of each organization involved.

Indiana Tech's Downtown Fort Wayne campus.“Indiana Tech has a strength working with adult students,” he says. “We have been active in online education for a long time, starting back in the mid-2000s, and have really grown that program. Our largest number of students is online and adult. We have a lot of experience with people looking to go into a particular field, maybe do a career switch, maybe have some college experience but no degree, but want to balance that against other things they have going on in their lives.”

Nursing degrees are notoriously difficult degrees, usually requiring two or four years to complete, so how does the accelerated program work?

The program allows students with a bachelor's degree in any field to earn a bachelor’s of science in nursing in 13 months. It’s a full-time, in-person program, located on Indiana Tech’s campus, in the Keene Building, where they’ve recently renovated the second floor to include a state-of-the-art facility, including labs, classrooms, a nursing suite and offices.

Indiana Tech's new, state-of-the-art nursing lab in Keene Building.Huntington University faculty members teach all courses and students who complete the program will earn a degree from Huntington University. The program is fully accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Eckert says they’re bringing the same quality of education students receive when completing the traditional program. 

“We added faculty but we moved seasoned instructors to the accelerated program,” she says. “We didn’t want a new program and new faculty. We wanted to ground it with the same level of quality our traditional program has.”

Another aspect of the traditional program Eckert is excited to bring to the new program is a course known as Role Transition. It provides students with the opportunity to shadow an RN for seven weeks, working the same shift their mentor works.

“If their menor works a 36 week with three night shifts, they work a 36 hour week with night shifts,” she says. 

Eckert credits this course and the extra clinical experience it brings with earning students job offers in specialties that new nurses typically don’t receive. In the traditional program students only shadow for five weeks, but Eckert says because of the accelerated nature of the new program, extending that time was crucial for preparing students.

“I was strategic about the amount of clinical experience for accelerated students because I want them to be prepared,” she explains. 

Depending on the degree students hold when they applied to the program, some might have to take prerequisite courses, like human development, statistics, anatomy and microbiology. Upon completion of prerequisites, students are eligible to begin the program. All prerequisite courses are offered by both Indiana Tech and Huntington University.

With prerequisite courses out of the way, students’ schedules will be highly concentrated on nursing-related classes and clinicals.

For Parkview’s part of this collaboration, students will be completing all clinicals at regional locations of Parkview Health. Prior to the launch of the ABSN, Parkview had existing educational partnerships with both schools individually and was excited to participate in this new program. 

Jayce Colclasure, Student Nurse Apprentice, shows off his shirt at Parkview Regional Medical Center.Hallie Custer, Vice President of Human Resources at Parkview, says the ABSN is a great opportunity for people looking to make a career change.

“It’s another way people can go back and change their career,” says Custer. “It’s another creative option for people to choose nursing and finish more quickly. It’s a doable option for them, versus having to go back to school for another two to four years. It allows them to have a career change.”

As another part of the partnership, students who complete the ABSN are guaranteed a job at Parkview, if they so choose to.

“They will have a direct pipeline to careers at Parkview,” says Parkview’s Director of Strategic Educational Partnerships Heather Schoegler. “We will find them a role.”

The entire program is estimated to cost $46,664, but students have the opportunity to have their tuition costs covered through Parkview Health and Questa Education Foundation when they make a commitment to work at Parkview.

Parkview Health offers new hires the option to select tuition support instead of a sign-on bonus in exchange for a work commitment. And in certain roles after six months of employment, Parkview employees are eligible for additional student loan payback in exchange for a work commitment.

Students committed to working at Parkview Health can also participate in the NCLEX Exam Prep with Hurst Review. Then, as students finish their degree, they’ll also have the opportunity to take part in Parkview’s Student Nurse Program, as they prepare to transition to full-time nurses.

In partnership with the Questa Education Foundation, students in their final year of the ABSN degree can apply for a $5,000 Nursing Candidate Award.

The Questa Education Foundation is a regional, nonprofit organization that helps people access post-secondary education, graduate with less debt and become contributing members of the regional workforce. Part of Questa’s work includes providing low-interest loans, which are eligible to be forgiven if students work in Northeast Indiana post-graduation. 

The foundation’s Executive Director Elizabeth Bushnell says helping students pursue higher education benefits the region as a whole and partnerships like the one between Huntington University and Indiana Tech help create the talent needed in our region. 

“I think it’s such a credit to our local colleges and universities to create opportunities like this, that really help students achieve those challenging degree programs and directly meets the talent needs we have in our region,” she says.

Altogether, students can be eligible to have 100 percent of their tuition covered through reimbursement or scholarships and awards.

“It’s such a wonderful collaboration, and then making it so much more accessible for students to be able to complete it is a tremendous benefit to students,” says Bushnell, “but really benefits us as a region because we need those nursing candidates in our workforce.”

There will be two cohorts per school year, with the first cohort of students starting in August 2023, and a second cohort in January 2024. 

Per guidelines set by the State Board of Nursing, the number of students is capped based on the number of instructors. In its first year, the program is capped at 50 students, or 25 students per cohort, but Engelhart says there’s an opportunity for the number of students to grow in the future.

Indiana Tech's new, state-of-the-art nursing lab in Keene Building.He says they’ve seen a lot of interest in the program, and have had applicants with a wide range of degrees. Spots are still available for the first year. 

To learn more about the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing, visit:
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Read more articles by Brittany Smith.

Brittany Smith is Input Fort Wayne's Managing Editor. Previously she served as Assistant Editor and participated in the College Input Program. She also volunteers for Northeast Indiana Public Radio.